Then there is my favorite picture, of me singing Happy Birthday to my grandmother. Alzheimer's was already taking her away from us at that point.
Every year, as I watch the tape when people are being seated before the mass begins, a few more of the pews are sprinkled with souls I will only get to greet again in memory and in Heaven. Today, one of my bridesmaids is clinging and yet surely slipping out of life. She suffered a brain aneurysm last night. The MRI last night was bad, the morning one was worse and all signs are not good. To make matters worse, she has diabetes, she's in a coma and she has heart issues. That she is still here is testimony to her pure stubbornness which has always served her well. If I were to describe her, it would be strong, rock, steel, fierce. You get the trend. She will stay until she decides to go. That is Jen in a nutshell, life fiercely lived no matter how difficult, words fearlessly said, even when they aren't the most artful, staying and saying, doing and doing, until she decides she's done enough.
I wrote her when I asked that she be in my wedding, that I wanted her to experience something of the "foo-fooness" of life that she often dismissed; in retrospect, I was trying to give her a luminous moment, with a pretty dress and her hair done big and with flowers and all of that; she conceded to me it was fun for a day and a great memory and I considered that a moral victory of the first order. She was one of my lunch crew and we would spar daily about the issues of the day, school, books, movies, the homily, the liturgy, and mostly, our volunteer work at Logan Center. Right and Left, we were both fiercely able to defend ourselves and I think our other friends enjoyed the mental tennis matches; they never ended, we just went to our next classes. She and I went weekly to help run a recreation program for handicapped kids, along with 25 or so other college students. She took it seriously. I thought it was fun.
We both chose it as a career in the end, both going to graduate school to get accreditation to further our service. But health issues dogged her from about the age of 30 on, and for the past 15 years, she's burned through three kidneys, gone on dialysis, had heart surgery and heart surgery and other surgery, and yet always made a point of coming to visit if she was in the vicinity. (She grew up in Virginia). She also always comes with gifts for my kids, really cool toys like puppets and things that flew or that one would fling, oragami frogs, slinkies, playdough and crafts crafts crafts. She gave gifts that everyone wanted to play with, and then we'd get on with the business of playing.
We'd laugh, we'd eat, we'd talk and we'd wonder aloud why we do not talk more often. We'd both promise to call more. We'd both not.
Both of us seemed comfortable and said we didn't mind the lapses inbetween; we seemed to simply pick up where we left off.
It would have been better for both of us if we hadn't allowed ourselves this out, if we'd been more vigilant with each other, but it is what it is and now, that opportunity to do otherwise, is no longer available. Jen always fought illness, and yet it always seemed, she was so strong, so determined, I was convinced, she would out live everyone. She'd demand that I think things through, I'd demand that she be nice even if she was right. Neither one of us liked losing. Neither one of us liked giving up. Neither one of us liked giving in. We relished our stubborness; it was a badge of pride for us both.
It is a hard thing to have a friend in a hospital states and states away and to not be there to rub her feet, to make her laugh or to share the time she has left. If I could be there, I'd probably talk too fast and too much. She often told me I did.
Neither one of us liked sentimentality and so we made fun of much. In college, we ate together often, we sang at mass and she and I liked signing the mass. She drove a small white car that her sister had air brushed silhouettes of animals onto. She was my cool prickly pear friend, the wasabi to my ginger in the sushi of life, a counterpoint necessary for music to be fuller and deeper; an anchor of hard thought for the fluffy stuff that often passed through my brain. I will miss her company deeply when she dies, because her strong voice was a something one could count on to be just that, strong.
Prayers that she is in no pain and that she knows, she is deeply loved both here, and in Heaven. I know I will see her every time I see that tape and recall that day; and I look forward to the reunion.